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Thanks for priesthood, blessing of freedom

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May the life of the Lord Jesus in your hearts bring you comfort and blessing! The weather of late has certainly been a reminder that we cannot take anything for granted. I ask you to pray with me for the repose of the souls of those who have been killed in recent storms, and for the needs of those whose homes have been lost or damaged by the tornadoes and floods. With our prayers and open arms, we stand in solidarity with them, to offer as much aid and comfort as we can.

Last Saturday, I had the great joy to ordain Deacon Frank Lona to the holy priesthood. This is the culmination of his many years of study, hard work and sacrifice. But it is only the beginning of what we hope and pray will be many more years of faithful and fruitful ministry! The priesthood is one of the most important foundations of the life of the church, because without priests, we would have no holy Eucharist, no holy Mass, no confession, and no Anointing of the Sick. We need priests to live! And that means we need you, young men, to be willing to say yes to God if he calls you to be a priest. We need you, parents and grandparents, to support our young men in discerning that possible call, and not to discourage them by giving them only the vision of marriage and material success to pursue. Please tell your sons and grandsons that you would be proud of them if they received and answered a call to the priesthood.

For parents of only one son, especially, I know this can be very hard, because everyone, of course, wants to pass on the family name to their grandchildren. But a priest is father to the whole parish, and the parents of priests have the biggest and happiest families of all – as my parents often told me!

This Sunday, we celebrate the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. We know with certainty that both saints came to Rome, preached and ministered there for some time, and were both martyred there. St. Peter was consistently remembered as the first bishop of the Church of Rome. We also know from Scripture that our Lord gave to St. Peter a special task, not shared with the other apostles (although all received the power to forgive sins, to consecrate the holy Eucharist, and to pass on their ministry to others by ordination, the “laying on of hands”). After the Resurrection, Christ designated Peter alone to “feed my sheep,” that is, to ensure the unity of the Church and of the College of Apostles (Jn 21:15-19; CCC 553, 881). These facts are the foundation of the papacy.

But this feast commemorates not only St. Peter’s ministry as the first Pope, but especially the common martyrdom they suffered for the sake of following Christ. St. Leo the Great, in a homily on this day, said that Peter’s boldness in coming to pagan Rome was greater than he showed when he stepped out of the boat at Christ’s command (Mt 14:29)! We also perhaps know the story of St. Peter attempting to flee the persecution in Rome, only to meet a man on the road who asked him, “Peter, where are you going? I am going to Rome to die for you again.” Thus, St. Peter recognized Christ again and followed him back to Rome, where he, too, was killed on a cross.

The feast of these two great apostles, evangelizers, and martyrs falls during our Fortnight for Freedom. For, truly, the freedom to love Christ completely, as they did, is precisely what we pray and witness and evangelize to achieve. It is a grave injustice, and one specifically foreseen and the Constitution written to prevent, that anyone should be penalized by the government for adhering to faith and conscience. The practice of our Catholic faith includes not merely Sunday Mass and prayer at home, but also concrete and public acts of charity and morality, which no government can justly force us to violate.

We are free, just as Catholics, to offer health care and education without ceasing to be Catholic when we do so. We are free, just as Catholics, to engage in commerce and to own businesses, without ceasing to be Catholic when we do so. (I’m speaking here as a Catholic and a bishop, but this applies not only to the Catholic Church, of course.) The First Amendment of the Constitution has always meant that we cannot be forced to contradict or abandon our Catholic (or other) faith when we do something that we are otherwise free to do, like serve others as a doctor or teacher or florist or baker. It cannot cease to mean what it has always meant, just because bad laws have been passed, or because ideologue judges have handed down contrary decisions.

Therefore, especially during this third Fortnight for Freedom, please pray and act for the full and unrestricted freedom to be in public what we believe in private. This is the greatest legacy of our Founding Fathers – both the founders of our country, who realized that religious freedom is essential to a free and equal society, and still more profoundly, the founders of our Roman Church, who were martyred for daring to live Christ’s own life. May Christ give you grace and peace!

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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